ISU Officials Say the University Will Not Ban Camping after Fire Incident

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AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State students camping outside Hilton Coliseum to get great seats for Monday’s basketball had a scary wake-up call Friday morning.

The campers were woken around 3 a.m. after two tents caught fire.

“Basically, this morning, I woke up to the smell of smoke,” said Josiah O’Polka, a sophomore at Iowa State University. “I peeked my head out and there flames.”

The students used propane tanks and space heaters to stay warm as they camped out for good seats for the game against Kansas in some very cold temperatures.

“I did the first thing I could think of. I grabbed the propane tanks and moved them far away,” said O’Polka. “Within a matter of minutes, the police and fire departments showed up. They got everything put out quickly.”

Andy Cunningham camped out nearby and had been in that tent earlier in the night. “I was in there. There were so many blankets and tarps around that heater,” said Cunningham. “I thought I was going to pass-out because of the fumes and heat. It was only three minutes.”

Brandon Benschoter was also woken by the fire just a few tents over.

“When we came out of the tent, just the walls of that tent were tarp and they were all just burning up completely. So we decided to pull our propane tank a long ways away and we started dragging tents out of the way as well,” Benschoter said.

Students said the firefighters that came were calming and suggested that this could happen to anyone. They also said that firefighters urge the students not to bring the propane heaters near or inside the tents.

The incident has people talking about what could happen in a worst-case scenario, especially with all of those propane tanks sitting around.

Warren Madden, the university’s senior vice president for business and finance, said members from the university’s Department of Public Safety, Environmental Health and Safety staff and the Ames Fire Department spoke with students Friday about ways to camp out safely.

The university said they will continue to assess the situation and monitor the students, but for now, students will continue to be allowed to camp outside Hilton.

Madden said the university has had talks about what changes could be implemented, such as banning camping all together. But he said the university does not want to do that.

“We’re trying to strike that balance -- providing the student environment they want and yet do it in a safe and responsible manner. We think we have struck a reasonable balance,” he said.

Madden said the students who camp out already have tickets. It’s just an issue of where they will get to sit inside Hilton. Madden met with athletic director Jamie Pollard and student government leaders in the fall regarding the student seating process.

The way tickets are allotted now was chosen by students, so the university allows students to camp as long as they do it safely. Madden said at the end of the season, just like they do every year, the university will sit down and assess the policy and talk with the students about options to see if this will continue to be a good way to go.